Some Oregon law enforcement officials are blaming the increase in crime throughout the state on the drug decriminalization law, Measure 110.
The measure, known as the Drug Treatment and Recovery Act, decreases penalties for the possession of hard drugs and provides voluntary treatment services to individuals struggling with addiction instead of sending them to jail and burdening them with a criminal record.
Under the measure, police cannot force anyone to receive treatment, nor can they charge people carrying a certain amount of a controlled substance with a misdemeanor crime.
Some police leaders say the law is backfiring because it prevents police from enforcing drug laws and supervising compliance with treatment strategies.
Since the law was passed in 2020, crime has only increased in Portland.
“Ballot Measure 110 was a Trojan Horse,” Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton said. “People who voted for it were led to believe that they would be increasing access to treatment.”
Barton’s office has seen an increase primarily in property crimes, but he is worried that things will get worse. “Crimes like car theft, car break-ins, catalytic converter theft. Things that really impact the quality of life for regular Oregonians,” he said.
Under the measure, instead of going to trial, those caught in possession of personal-use amounts of hard drugs, such as heroin, LSD or oxycodone, have the option of paying a $100 fine or attending a drug addiction recovery center funded by tax dollars generated from the state’s legalized marijuana industry.
Barton said that most drug users are not seeking treatment. “Previously, step one was someone was essentially caught using a drug that was illegal and the police could interact with that person at that time and we could provide treatment and supervision,” he said. “Step one now has been taken out of the criminal justice process, so there’s really no way to require people to engage in that treatment.”
Tera Hurst, executive director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, said that the one of the points behind the measure is that the war on drugs has been unsuccessful.
“We have seen study after study that shows that forced treatment doesn’t work, but it can also be really harmful,” Hurst said. “We’ve also shown that when you saddle somebody with barriers, lifelong barriers such as criminalization, you don’t have access to jobs, housing, education, bank accounts.”
Hurst also noted that rising crime is a national problem, not isolated to Oregon, rejecting the notion that the measure has increased crime. “What Ballot Measure 110 did was decriminalize small possession of drugs. It did not decriminalize crimes,” she explained.
Barton believes that drug users commit crimes to fuel their habit rather than seek treatment. “So now we have to wait for them to commit a more serious crime. We have to wait for them to steal a car. Wait for them to break into a car, break into a home, assault somebody,” he said.
Hurst said that the treatment services are just starting to receive funding from the state and hopes this will improve access to treatment. “We are 50th in the nation in access to services. The services haven’t been there — period,” she said. “We still have to build our way up to ground level and then continue to build up in order for us to see and feel the impact of a robust system.”